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Competitors wage friendly pool game

Sixteen players vie for first place at the Western States Police & Fire Games

Posted: June 17, 2009 8:24 p.m.
Updated: June 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Kim Merrill, a retired police officer from Gilroy, Calif., front, lines up his shot as Rick Alves, a police officer from Lake Shastina, takes a shot at the next table over during the billiards tournament at the Western States Police & Fire Games.

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The Shooters pool bar in Newhall - at night a loud and bustling joint - was quiet Wednesday morning, save for clicking billiard balls and occasional boasts and curses.

The day's games were the first of two long sessions of straight pool tournaments in this year's Western States Police & Fire Games, a friendly competition between police and firefighters from Hawaii to Wyoming. The winner will be announced tonight.

"Anyone who plays straight pool is pretty good," said Bob Barrier, a 73-year-old retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "It's kind of the chess of pool games."

Straight pool is considered among the most classic and time-honored billiards games. It involves players calling in advance which ball they intend to put into which pocket.

The owners of Shooters opened up the watering hole's billiards room to the Police & Fire Games for free, he said.

Barrier, an organizer for the pool games, is a fearsome player in his own right, pool-hall rivals said.

"I ran across that old fart and another old fart, and I was amazed," said Kim Merrill, 60, a retired Gilroy, Calif. police officer. "I didn't even stand a chance."

Merrill won the gold medal at a pool tournament earlier in the week, beating a police officer from Los Angeles in the final round.
He said the pool tables are sometimes a refuge for older officers.

Merrill said when he was 50, he successfully wrestled in the Police & Fire Games, but he wouldn't consider stepping into a boxing ring anymore.

"Nobody that's old with half a brain would want to box," Merrill said. "I have a quarter of a brain, and I won't do it."

Most of the men in Shooters on Wednesday were police officers or sheriff's deputies. Firefighters had only one representative in the tournament.

Staying true to the friendly rivalry between police and fire departments at the games, Merrill threw in a wisecrack.

"You wouldn't think a bunch of cops would play pool - you'd think firemen, because they have more free time," Merrill said, grinning. "And you can quote me on that."

James Garcia, a San Diego border patrol agent, was new to the pool tournament. He had long played pool at bars, but said the billiards players at the Police & Fire Games are in a league of their own.

"A lot of these guys have been playing for years and years," said Garcia. "I'll be here next year. Definitely."

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